Metal Box

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This article is about the Public Image Ltd record. For boxes made out of metal, see Tin box.
Metal Box
PIL - Metal Box original.jpg
Original metal canister packaging released in 1979.
Studio album by Public Image Ltd
Released 23 November 1979
Recorded March–October 1979
Length 60:29
Producer Public Image Ltd
Public Image Ltd chronology
Public Image: First Issue
Metal Box
Paris au Printemps
Second Edition Cover
Singles from Metal Box
  1. "Death Disco (Swan Lake)"
    Released: 1979
  2. "Memories"
    Released: 1979

Metal Box is the second album by Public Image Ltd, released by Virgin Records on 23 November 1979.[3] It was reissued as Second Edition in 1980. The album was a departure from PiL's relatively conventional debut First Issue, released in 1978, with the band moving into a more avant-garde sound characterised by John Lydon's cryptic vocals, propulsive dub-inspired rhythms led by bassist Jah Wobble, and an abrasive, "metallic" guitar sound developed by guitarist Keith Levene.

Metal Box is widely regarded as a landmark of post-punk.[4] In 2003, the album was ranked number 469 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[5]



Metal Box was recorded in several sessions with several different drummers, none of whom were credited on the original release. "Albatross" and "Swan Lake"/"Death Disco" were recorded with new drummer David Humphrey at The Manor Studio in Shipton-on-Cherwell. "Poptones" was recorded with Levene on drums. During this time, additional tracks were recorded at Townhouse Studios in London, namely "Beat the Drum for Me" (which later turned up on Wobble's first solo album), and a new version of "Fodderstompf" (which became the B-side of PiL's "Death Disco" 12" single). Humphrey left the band around mid-May 1979. "Memories", "No Birds", "Socialist" and "Chant" were recorded with new drummer Richard Dudanski at Townhouse Studios in London. The instrumental "Graveyard" was recorded at Rollerball Rehearsal Studios in Bermondsey, PiL's rehearsal studio, with Dudanski. For the B-side of PIL's "Memories" single vocals were added at The Manor and the track re-titled to "Another". Dudanski left the band around mid-September 1979. "The Suit" was recorded as a solo track by Jah Wobble at Gooseberry Sound Studios in London. Vocals and some overdubs were added at The Manor. "Careering" was recorded at Townhouse Studios with Wobble on drums."Bad Baby" was recorded with new drummer Martin Atkins at Townhouse Studios. Except for a brief period during 1980, Atkins remained with the band until 1985. "Radio 4" was recorded as a solo piece by Keith Levene at Advision Studios and an unknown second studio. According to Levene, this was the last recorded track. Levene utilized aluminum Veleno guitars throughout the recording sessions to achieve a distinctively sharp and metallic guitar sound.[6]


The title of the album refers to its original packaging, which consisted of a metal 16mm film canister embossed with the band's logo and containing three 12" 45rpm records. It was designed by Dennis Morris[7] and was innovative and inexpensive, costing little more to the label than the cost of standard printed sleeves for equivalent 12" releases (although Virgin did ask for a refund of 1/3 of the band's advance due to the cost).[8] Before the metal tin was finalised, there was discussion of the album being released in a sandpaper package that would effectively ruin the sleeve art of any records shelved next to it. That idea would later be realised by the Durutti Column for their 1980 Factory Records debut, The Return of the Durutti Column.

Metal Box opened

The album's lack of accessibility extended to the discs themselves. Packed tightly inside the canister and separated by paper sheets, they were difficult to remove, and were prone to being nicked and scratched in the process. Since each side only contained about ten minutes of music, the listener was required to frequently change sides to hear the complete album.[9]

Deleted from the catalogue on 23 November 1979 after an initial release of 60,000 units, the album was re-issued on 22 February 1980[10] as Second Edition, a double LP packaged in a more conventional gatefold. The sleeve art of Second Edition consists of distorted photographs of the band members, achieving a funhouse mirror effect. (The front cover is a photo of Keith Levene.) The lyrics are printed on the rear cover; these were originally printed in a magazine advertisement and not included with Metal Box. The band initially wanted the album released with a lyric sheet but no track titles; the United Kingdom version of Second Edition appears as the band intended, with lyrics on the back cover, but no titles, and "PiL" logo labels on all four sides of the vinyl. The US edition of Second Edition has track titles both on the back cover and the labels.

A unique anomaly exists on the US vinyl LP of Second Edition: although PiL were signed to Warner Bros. Records in the US, the album was released with the Island Records logo on the sleeve and labels, albeit with a Warner Bros. catalogue number (2WX 3288). The American 8-track tape and cassette versions of Second Edition carry only the Warner Bros. logo, with no mention of Island.

The original metal canister idea was used a few years later during the compact disc era; by the late 1980s a number of CDs were packaged in metal canisters, including Prince's special edition of the Batman soundtrack. In 1990 the concept came full circle, with the compact disc release of Metal Box employing a smaller version of the original metal canister, containing a single disc and a small paper insert.

Noise rock band Big Black would later release some copies of their Bulldozer in metal boxes, as a tribute to this album.



Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[41]
Robert Christgau A−[42]
Drowned in Sound 10/10[43]
Rolling Stone 4.5/5 stars[44]

Metal Box is now considered a post-punk classic, and is very critically acclaimed. Allmusic gave it a five star rating, saying "PIL managed to avoid boundaries for the first four years of their existence, and Metal Box is undoubtedly the apex" and that it "hardly [sounds] like anything of the past, present, or future". The reviewer, Andy Kellman, also compared it to the works of Captain Beefheart and Can.[45] Drowned in Sound also gave it a perfect score, with reviewer Mark Ward stating "it tears away from Lydon's sweaty punk roots and into the cold chambers of dub evoked by Can, the more outré electronics of Bowie's Berlin years and the coruscating post-punk sound that guitarist Levene was in the process of pioneering" and that "if you don't yet have a copy, you really should".[46]

In 2003, the album was inducted into Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list at No. 469, the magazine calling it "eerie, futuristic art punk with dub bass and slashing guitar".[47] In 2002, Pitchfork Media ranked Metal Box at No. 19 on its "Top 100 Albums of the 1980s".[48] It was also, along with their debut album, included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, with the reviewer Stevie Chick saying "the abrasive textures and powerful sounds they discovered...would influence all manner of experimental music for decades to come", while describing it as "cold dank, unforgiving, subterranean." The songs "Albatross", "Poptones", "Careering", "Chant" and "Radio 4" were selected as "key tracks".[49]

Track listing[edit]

All words, music and production credited to Public Image Ltd.[50]

No. Title Length
1. "Albatross"   10:34
2. "Memories"   5:05
3. "Swan Lake"   4:11
4. "Poptones"   7:46
5. "Careering"   4:32
6. "No Birds"   4:41
7. "Graveyard"   3:07
8. "The Suit"   3:29
9. "Bad Baby"   4:30
10. "Socialist"   3:09
11. "Chant"   5:01
12. "Radio 4"   4:24
  • The original track listing put "Socialist", "Chant" and "Radio 4" as one song.
  • On the Second Edition re-release, "No Birds" and "Socialist" are swapped places.[51]
  • Second Edition puts the whole album onto four sides of vinyl, whereas the original release used six.
  • "No Birds" is sometimes listed as "No Birds Do Sing"


Note: Levene played all instruments on "Radio 4".



  • The original limited edition of "Metal Box" entered the UK albums chart, where it stayed for 8 weeks and reached No. 18 on 8 December 1979.[53]
  • The re-release edition of "Second Edition" briefly entered the UK albums chart, where it stayed for 2 weeks and reached No. 46 on 8 March 1980.[53]
  • The single "Death Disco" entered the UK Top 75, where it stayed for 7 weeks and reached No. 20 on 7 July 1979.[53]
  • The single "Memories" briefly entered the UK Top 75, where it stayed for 2 weeks and reached No. 60 on 20 October 1979.[53]


  • The album "Second Edition" did not enter the Billboard 200 album charts.
  • No singles were released from the album in the USA.

Other countries[edit]

  • In New Zealand, both "Metal Box" and "Second Edition" briefly entered the Top 50 Albums Chart. "Metal Box" entered the chart for 1 week at No. 21 on 23 March 1980, "Second Edition" stayed in the chart for 2 weeks and reached No. 28 on 30 March 1980.[54]


  1. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-21570-6. 
  2. ^ Kellman, Andy. "Second Edition – Public Image Ltd. : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards : AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 9 September 2013. 
  3. ^ "Record News". NME (London, England: IPC Media): 4. 10 November 1979. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ rolling stone 500 best albums Metal Box Entry
  6. ^
  7. ^ Metal Box Stories from John Lydon's Public Image Limited, book by Phil Strongman, published by Helter Skelter, ISBN 978-1-900924-66-5
  8. ^ Reynolds, Simon: "Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984", page 216. Penguin Press, 2005.
  9. ^ Marcus, Greil (29 May 1980). "PiL box". Rolling Stone (Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.) (318): 53. 
  10. ^ "PiL Chronology 1980". Fodderstompf. Retrieved 20 July 2011. 
  11. ^ a b Scott Isler: “Fear and Loathing on the West Coast” (Trouser Press, USA, June 1980)
  12. ^ Scott Murphy: “John Lydon Interview” ( website January 2004)
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Jason Gross: “Keith Levene Interview by Jason Gross, Part 2 of 4” (Perfect Sound Forever website, May 2001)
  14. ^ Jack Barron: “I Cry Alone” (New Musical Express, 10 October 1987)
  15. ^ PIL's London debut concerts (25 & 26 December 1978)
  16. ^ Vivien Goldman: "The Meaning Behind the Moaning" (Melody Maker 8 December 1979)
  17. ^ a b John Lydon liner notes (Public Image Ltd.: "Plastic Box" compilation, Virgin Records, 1999)
  18. ^ a b Simon Reynolds: "Albatross Soup" (The Wire December 2002)
  19. ^ Jenny Knight: “Killer Cuts...” (Guitar Magazine May 2004)
  20. ^ Jah Wobble: “Memoirs of a Geezer” (Serpent's Tail, 2009, pages 108–109)
  21. ^ Jah Wobble liner notes (Jah Wobble: “I Could Have Been a Contender” compilation, Trojan Records, 2004)
  22. ^ Peter Noble: “Jah Wobble of PIL” (Impulse magazine, Toronto, May 1980)
  23. ^ Simon Reynolds: "Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews” (Soft Skull Press, 2009, page 20)
  24. ^ Clinton Heylin: "Babylon's Burning – From Punk to Grunge" (Canongate 2007, page 466)
  25. ^ a b c Scott Murphy: “Richard Dudanski Interview” ( website May 2004)
  26. ^ Jah Wobble: “Memoirs of a Geezer” (Serpent's Tail, 2009, pages 111–112)
  27. ^ Kris Needs: "Bass Culture" (ZigZag June 1980)
  28. ^ Rollerball Rehearsal Studios (75–81 Tooley Street, London SE1), PIL's rehearsal studio had a small 4-track recording studio
  29. ^ Jason Gross: “Keith Levene Interview by Jason Gross, Part 4 of 4” (Perfect Sound Forever website, September 2001)
  30. ^ a b c d Greg Whitfield: “Looking For Something” (3:AM Magazine website, May 2004)
  31. ^ a b Mike Routhier: “Longplaya Show – Metal Box 30th Anniversary” (Pirate Cat Radio 87.9 FM, San Francisco, 1 March 2009)
  32. ^ Jah Wobble: “Memoirs of a Geezer” (Serpent's Tail, 2009, pages 116–117)
  33. ^ Jah Wobble: “Memoirs of a Geezer” (Serpent's Tail, 2009, page 104)
  34. ^ Chris Bohn: “The PIL Corp to Cease Trading?” (New Musical Express, 5 July 1980)
  35. ^ Scott Murphy: “Martin Atkins Interview” ( website December 2001)
  36. ^ Phil Strongman: “John Lydon’s Metal Box – The Story Of Public Image Ltd.” (Helter Skelter, 2007, page 101)
  37. ^ Jean Encoule: “Martin Atkins – The Boy Looked at Johnny” ( website July 2002)
  38. ^ Jah Wobble: “Memoirs of a Geezer” (Serpent's Tail, 2009, page 111)
  39. ^ Simon Reynolds: "Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews” (Soft Skull Press, 2009, page 22)
  40. ^ Alfred Hilsberg: “Public Image Ltd. – Wir sind keine Rock 'n' Roll Band!” (Sounds magazine, Germany, April 1980)
  41. ^ Kellman, Andy. "Second Edition – Public Image Ltd. : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards : AllMusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 9 September 2013. 
  42. ^ Robert Christgau. "Robert Christgau: CG: Public Image Ltd". Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  43. ^ Ward, Mark (8 December 2009). "Public Image Ltd – Metal Box (Remastered) / Releases / Releases // Drowned in Sound". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  44. ^ Sheffield, Rob (15 November 2006). "Metal Box : Album Reviews : Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  45. ^ Kellman, Andy. "Allmusic review". Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  46. ^ Ward, Mark (8 December 2009). "DrownedinSound Review". Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  47. ^ "Rolling Stone 500 Best Albums Entry". Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  48. ^ "Pitchfork Feature: Top 100 Albums of the 1980s". 20 November 2002. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  49. ^ 1001 albums you must hear before you die (2008 edition) Dimery, Robert page 442
  50. ^ "Original Release + Credits". Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  51. ^ "second edition tracklisting". Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  52. ^ David Humphrey
  53. ^ a b c d website
  54. ^ website

External links[edit]